Let's spring into dreams of summer

By Elaine Markoutsas
Universal Uclick

Have we ever been more anxious to spend time outdoors?

With today's new norm of staying in place, the strangest spring in memory is largely in lockdown mode until we get COVID-19 tamed. But that doesn't mean we can't dream about the summer days when we can stretch out on a chaise, grill to our heart's content and drink a few cold ones with friends.

And since many of us now have the luxury of time, we can plan like never before! Prep that outdoor space. Clean the grill. Use it! Acquire some new skills -- culinary techniques and dishes -- before your official welcome-to-summer soiree. You might even hone your presentation skills for the debut of "social undistancing."

We've been getting heartening messages from furniture manufacturers, like the Spanish company Andreu World: "For all the good times that will surely come."

While many manufacturers are shuttered, others are still doing business. And retailers are welcoming customers to their websites, where there are guides galore for outdoor living.

It seems so long ago that we were introduced to 2020 collections, this past fall at the Casual Furniture Market in Chicago and the more recent international trade show Maison and Objet in Paris. There is a lot to offer.

An overarching trend, of course, is the furthering of the cohesive outdoor rooms that mimic gathering places indoors, for drinking, cooking, dining and lounging. All of which translates to comfortable furniture in a wide range in style, color, pattern and texture. Seating and dining are the main areas of interest, but so are fire features (tables, fire pits or outdoor fireplaces), outdoor kitchens and pergolas, or some kind of sheltered space. Also, some manufacturers appear to be taking cues from the contract sector (products designed for offices, hospitality, hotels, etc.), looking to integrate battery chargers or USB ports for phones and laptops into seating or tables.

Alternating slats of distressed natural teak are held together by big metal staples on the backrests of Rafael, a collection designed by Paola Navone for Ethimo. The woody organic shell forms a soft nest of cushions, and the designer describes the edgy deconstructed shape as "almost tribal." The tables combine wood with enameled lava stone reminiscent of the varying hues of the seas.

Here's what's on tap for 2020:

— It's all in the mix. Diversity is the lesson to be learned from high-end outdoor manufacturers in Europe. Not only are materials merged in single pieces of furniture, like concrete or porcelain with teak tables, but also, wood is being paired with outdoor wicker and rattan, and metal, for an eclectic look.

— Folding screens are an emerging category, and we're down for it. Folding screens made out of slatted wood or rope, in a range of styles, provide a bit of architecture and a means of creating a corner, defining a space. In addition, there's a marvelous hybrid: a vertical planter wall. At Mamagreen, the wall plays with positive and negative space and provides space for several planters. Plus, it's on casters, so it can be moved about. It's like a room divider, and with the extra benefit of foliage, a wonderful addition to a patio or deck. Plant stands with staggered placements for pots are another strong option.

— Practical add-ons. With modern modular seating, same-height tables can be an extension at the ends, or even the middle, handy for snacks, books or magazines. We're also seeing new features: Plank and Hide's new etched aluminum end table has the look and feel of wood grain and doubles as a functional food service station, with one large stainless steel container for an entree like pasta and three rectangular slots for salad, fruit, veggies.

— The easiest glow up: pillows. Sure, a bold color can go a long way. But have you seen patterned pillows lately? Many of the designs continue to extend beyond traditional florals and geometrics. Couture touches like mitering and accenting with fringe or buttons are signature for Elaine Smith, who is very much inspired by fashion. This season, we were absolutely blown away with the Frontgate pillows that were inspired by botanical prints from the New York Botanical Garden. The digital imagery is absolutely brilliant.

— White-on-white is a clean, modern look in powder-coated aluminum with matching upholstery or striking in contrast with teak frames.

White continues to gain traction in outdoor style. White sculptural seats and tabletop pop on teak frames with the new Santorini collection from Kannoa. The seats are upholstered in outdoor commercial marine-graded fabric. The tabletop is ultra-durable high-pressure laminate.

— Embracing new finishes for teak. We're seeing a lot more distressing, similar to what happens naturally over time. But it's skewed a bit warmer, a little less gray and more refined than rustic. Baixa, a new three-piece sectional for CB2, for example, features a gray-washed mahogany platform base with tight, overstuffed cushions.

— Rope and wovens are moving from neutral to color, extending options for accents. A mustard-hued chair in handwoven synthetic rattan from CB2 is a great example, as are several rope collections from Talenti, shown in a shade of brick red.

— Color is reflecting sophisticated palettes from nature that also are on trend indoors. Largely driven at the high end in Europe, some of the palettes include a rosy brick, plum, mustard and teal, as well as paler versions of these. Green still is a force. One of the most attention-grabbing new collections from Lloyd Flanders is a woven sectional shown in a brighter green called "basil."

— Cook outdoors in style. There are more design options now for cabinetry to go with those grills, outdoor refrigerators, wine coolers and sinks. In Europe, there's more of an integrated approach, and we're seeing more of these all-in-one concepts that merge at Italian brands Ethimo and Talenti.

— Light it up. It's hard to imagine early examples of outdoor lights, which were, well, pretty lamp -- essentially table lamps with bland shades that showed little imagination in style and merely made indoor looks outdoor safe. With fun, sassy stripes from Sunbrella, Maori is one company to offer a range of shaded floor lamps or freestanding cylinders. Woven looks also have exploded, as has the category of lanterns, most of which are battery operated.

— Gimme shelter. The romantic vision of a Victorian pergola has morphed into a very modern pavilion, with a choice of walls, roofs and even integrated light and sound.

— With a current focus on wellness, the notion of a relaxing oasis where you can chill in your backyard has never resonated more.


        -- Anthropologie, 800-309-2500,

        -- CB2, 800-606-6252,

        -- Ethimo,, distributed through Morlen Sinoway Atelier, 312-432-0100,

        -- Frontgate, 888-263-9850,

        -- Janus et Cie, 877-705-2687,

        -- Jensen Leisure Furniture, 800-403-0403,

        -- Kannoa, 305-651-9655,

        -- Kettal, 786-552-9002,

        -- Lagoon Furniture America Corp., 786-420-2934,

        -- Mamagreen, 312-877-5155,

        -- Missoni Home, 866-966-0390,

        -- Pavilion Furniture, 305-823-3480,

        -- Pottery Barn, 888-779-5176,

        -- Talenti,, distributed through Morlen Sinoway Atelier, 312-422-0100,